Samuel Tadesse found out he was HIV positive in 2004 after taking a routine test as part of his US visa application. He spent the next four years feeling completely hopeless. Although not a cleric, Samuel visited one of the country’s largest sacred springs as a last resort: the Tsadkane Monastery, located in the Amhara region of western Ethiopia.
The site of the Holy Water is visited by 5,000 pilgrims daily, all seeking to cure their ailments through prayer, holy water and bathing. Most of these pilgrims were seriously ill and a large group were diagnosed with end-stage AIDS.
Samuel immediately felt comfortable and decided to live in the area where the well was. However, he soon realized that many people who live near the well, waiting for a miracle, are slowly dying. He also realized that a strict diet of holy water and a daily meal of dry barley flour was an inadequate diet for patients. He decided to try to improve the welfare of the affected community.
Samuel’s fundraising efforts, set off at local bus stops, quickly gained momentum and he was soon able to purchase and distribute bread and blankets to the dying pilgrims of Tsadkane. Within a few months, the number of new money recipients rose from 115 to 1,200.
But he was aware that bread, water, and blankets are not long lasting solution. “It’s scary because there is no medical treatment and I know many more would have died if we hadn’t connected the well to the nearby medical center.”

So he approached the local church. Historically, the relationship between medical science and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community, the largest religious group in the country, has been controversial. When the AIDS pandemic began to spread rapidly in Ethiopia, any discussion in favor of antiretroviral therapy (ART) was discouraged. According to the church, there is only one cure for HIV patients: faith, prayer and holy water.
The church donated a small thatched hut to house HIV victims, but despite Samuel’s efforts, it was not enough to accommodate the growing number of people.

It is estimated that in recent years around 500 Ethiopians have moved to Mount Entoto and its surroundings, attracted by the holy waters. New arrivals are people living with HIV living in a country that, until recently, did not receive antiretroviral treatment. For many people, holy water remains their only hope when AIDS invades their bodies.

 

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